A television channel recently reported that at any given point of time during the day, an estimated 260,000 people are airborne worldwide. This is phenomenally a large number, and it pretty much illustrates the gigantic magnitude of the global aviation industry. In such a crisscross maze of simultaneously flying aircraft, it is absolutely crucial for each airline to keep track of all of its aircraft, their locations, trajectories, and safety.
A large volume of air traffic, coupled with sensitive and frequently changing weather conditions, makes it necessary to have a continuous, 24-hour real-time tracking and monitoring system in place. For this purpose, each airline has a special team that is exclusively designated the task of tracking its aircraft. Also, in the recent times, almost all the airline carriers around the world have started offering such services in real time. Here are some of the techniques on which most of these systems are based.
This is a conventional tracking technique that is currently being used all over the world. Sometimes, it is also referred to as ground-based or radio frequency tracking. As the name suggests, this technique is based on the principle of radar, which uses radio waves for the purpose of tracking and communication. Air Traffic Control (ATC) towers or ground-based stations emit radio waves at a designated radio frequency. These radio waves bounce off the aircraft and return to the base. The time period between the emission and the reception of the radio waves is used to calculate the distance of the airplane from the ATC tower. However, this technique is not flawless by any stretch of imagination. Heavy mountainous terrain, large expanses of ocean, deep forest terrain, and certain other hidden spots are examples of places, where it is already in large use.
Using Google Earth
Google Earth is a revolutionary concept, with the help of which numerous software applications have been designed; one such application is a real-time flight tracking system. This application makes use of the 3D visuals of the Earth, which are generated by Google Earth, in conjunction with other position-mapping algorithms to ultimately present a visual representation of the flight location, path, etc. It also provides additional data such as flight origin, destination, departure time, estimated arrival time, altitude, speed, etc.
As is the case with traditional systems, satellite-based tracking also involves measuring time-space position data related to the aircraft. However, what is unique in its case is the fact that all these activities are performed by satellites, and not by ground-based locations. Consequently, this technique eliminates quite a few shortcomings, which otherwise are prevalent in the other methods. It involves the use of satellite transmitters, receivers, decoders, two-way communication antennas, and microprocessors, all of which work in synchronization with satellite stations. It also involves the use of detailed graphic images, contour analysis, etc., which results in accurate tracking of the flights.
Google Earth has been an inspiration to several other websites, which now offer real-time flight tracking services over the Internet. All that one has to do is simply enter the relevant flight details on the user interface of the website, and within a few seconds, the website displays a virtual path of the aircraft, along with all the relevant performance and monitoring data. One can sit back, and enjoy the virtual experience of following the aircraft's flight path as it heads towards its destination.
This is a relatively new technique, which employs stereo imaging methods in conjunction with laser beam tracking. Although, it is in an experimental and testing stage at present, experts suggest that it could prove to be reliable in the near future.
Aviation industry analysts are of the opinion that satellite-based method, in collaboration with global positioning system (GPS) will become one of the most advanced, accurate, and reliable flight tracking techniques in the near future. Frequently changing atmospheric conditions, turbulence, and diverse flying conditions make real-time tracking an absolutely crucial aspect of aviation.